Something significant shifted in media this year — and it’s not just about the pandemic keeping us inside, glued to screens. It’s all due to a simple idea: cater to the will of the consumer.
With today’s fragmented, social media-fueled pop culture environment, the consumer has never had more power. A random tweet can derail a blockbuster movie; a stream of clever TikTok videos can create a star. And all the biggest media companies are chasing viewer tastes more intensely than ever, focusing on their streaming platforms as consumers create an increasingly personalized, fractured media diet.
Here’s how all that adds up to the four biggest ways 2020 transformed media.
Broadcast TV and movie theaters face serious threats
Once the center of the entertainment universe, broadcast television and movie theaters have been hit hard by the pandemic, which has changed consumer behavior in lasting ways.
For broadcasters, the lockdowns in mid-March forced many shows to end their seasons early and kept networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, The CW and Fox from developing many new shows. The fall season, when broadcasters often debut their most-anticipated new series, was pushed back for months. And a few new shows which managed to debut in the fall, like Kim Cattrall’s Filthy Rich and John Slattery’s NEXT on Fox, are already canceled.
Small wonder media companies like Disney and NBC Universal have reorganized their corporate structures to emphasize streaming.
As a consumer with a pretty decent home media system, I had already set a high bar for movies worth the hassle and cost of viewing in a theater. Add in the possibility of COVID-19 exposure and increased availability of theatrical films on streaming, and that math tilts pretty hard against movie theaters.
I’ve often believed the rise of new media doesn’t kill old media; it just forces it to change. So broadcast TV and movie theaters won’t disappear entirely, but they will be transformed.
News media struggled to convince half of America to accept basic facts.
Did Joe Biden win the presidency in a fair election? Is the coronavirus a deadly health threat, curbed by widespread mask wearing? Those are basic questions with basic answers — yes, and yes — but Americans have been divided on these issues throughout 2020.
The divide is fed by political partisanship, ideologically driven media outlets and a President one factchecker says issued more than 20,000 false or misleading claims as of July – long before he began challenging November’s election result with a series of meritless charges about widespread voter fraud.
Often, Trump has seemed to embody what Stephen Colbert once called “truthiness”; believing something is true because you feel or want it to be true, regardless of the actual facts. Indeed, it is notable that the top two contenders for factchecking website PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” in 2020 were often echoed by President Trump and Trump-friendly media outlets like Fox News Channel: COVID-19 denialism and a refusal to believe Joe Biden won the presidential election (Coronavirus denial eventually won the top spot).
The problem was highlighted in a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey, which found 61 percent of Americans overall trusted the presidential election result, but just 24 percent of Republicans did.
We are learning this year how much of American democracy depends on the mutual acceptance of norms and basic facts. What we may learn next year, is what happens to democracy if that mutual acceptance drops even further.
The reckoning over civil rights and racial diversity transformed entertainment TV and journalism
This year, I saw three things happen in television that I never expected. The Bachelor chose its first Black man as a star. Cops and Live PD, two unscripted shows long criticized for stereotyping poor folks and people of color, were canceled. And CBS, a network long criticized for its lack of diversity, announced specific diversity goals for scripted and unscripted series, aimed at boosting the numbers of non-white people throughout their productions.
Many factors led to these changes, including the reckoning over systemic racism kicked off by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police this summer. And CBS has weathered a string of scandals this year involving allegations of abusive workplace conduct or staffers and contestants of color feeling marginalized at shows like All Rise, Hawaii Five-O, Magnum P.I., MacGuyver and Survivor.
Skeptical as I am about the TV industry’s resistance to real transformation on racial issues — note reports that Cops quietly resumed production after its cancelation by Paramount Network to make episodes for overseas outlets — the success of shows led by non-white characters like I May Destroy You, Lovecraft Country, Small Axe, P-Valley, Ramy and The Last Dance are a good sign.
The world of journalism also saw seismic changes this year, from the resignation of The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s editor after the newspaper published a headline which offensively referenced the Black Lives Matter movement – it read, “Buildings Matter, Too” – to apologies from both The Los Angeles Times and The Kansas City Star for past racism in its coverage on people of color.
It all feels like a long-overdue recognition of the impact systemic racism continues to have on media. The issue goes beyond individual acts perpetrated by specific people; it’s about ending habits, strategies, reflexes and traditions within platforms which marginalize non-white people.
There’s more work to be done, especially to feature Hispanic characters and storytellers, who remain among the most underrepresented groups on TV and in journalism.
But at a time when some of the best shows on television are also the most diverse, there’s little argument left for failing to reflect the wide array of races, cultures, genders and orientations visible in the wider world.
The line between theatrical films and TV vanished as the next phase of the streaming wars begins.
The streaming wars kicked off with big platform launches, from Apple TV+ and Disney+ late last year, to WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBC Universal’s Peacock this year. 2020 showed us the shape of the coming second phase: increasing and refining what’s on these platforms, to define the identity of the service and hold your attention.
It’s like that scene in every Marvel movie where all the heroes assemble for the big fight: Disney this month announced plans to fill Disney+ with lots of new material – 100 titles annually for the next four years – including at least 10 new Star Wars shows and 11 Marvel programs. Warner Bros. will debut all 17 of its feature films scheduled for release in 2021 on HBO Max the same date they hit theaters. They’re both gunning for each other and industry leader Netflix, which still has more subscribers than either Disney+ or HBO Max.
And even though short-form streamer Quibi died just months after launch, new streaming platforms like AMC+ and Discovery+ have emerged, filled with even more content.
This will be a pitched battle for control of the attention economy – what earns consumers’ notice and loyalty. In the process, more material will move to streaming television, reaching us through our smartphones, tablets, desktops or smart TVs.
The success of Disney+’s launch – Disney says it gained nearly 87 million subscribers since its launch in November 2019, four years sooner than early predictions – resulted from careful planning and help from the pandemic. The service had a library of classic content filled with material from Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm (Star Wars), Pixar and National Geographic. Disney+ only needed one original hit early on, the amazing reinvention of the Star Wars universe called The Mandalorian.
HBO Max had a tougher ride, with a monthly subscription fee of nearly $15 (about twice the cost of Disney+) and a less impressive content library when stacked against Disney+’s big franchises. Moving films like The Matrix 4 and the Suicide Squad sequel to HBO Max may help juice consumer interest, but it will come at the expense of angering the film industry and theater owners, who may lose a fortune if Warner Bros. films struggle at the box office.
Successfully taking advantage of a media trend is all about timing: Sure, everything may likely move to streaming eventually, but did Warner Bros. pull the trigger too soon?
The answer to that question will determine the shape of the world’s most powerful entertainment companies for years to come.
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck pictured kissing as ‘Bennifer’ returns
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have been pictured exchanging passionate kisses, apparently confirming weeks of fevered rumors that they have rekindled a romance that dominated celebrity media almost 20 years ago.
Paparazzi photos printed in the New York Post on Monday showed the two actors kissing while enjoying a meal with members of Lopez’s family at Malibu’s posh Nobu sushi restaurant west of Los Angeles on Sunday.
Representatives for Lopez, 51, declined to comment on Monday, while Affleck’s publicists did not return a request for comment.
Lopez and “Argo” director Affleck, dubbed “Bennifer,” became the most talked about couple in the celebrity world in the early 2000s in a romance marked by his-and-her luxury cars and a large 6.1-carat pink diamond engagement ring. They abruptly called off their wedding in 2003 and split up a few months later.
The pair have been pictured together several times in Los Angels and Miami in recent weeks, after Lopez and her former baseball player fiance Alex Rodriguez called off their engagement in mid-April after four years together. Monday’s photos were the first in which Lopez and Affleck were seen kissing this time around.
Celebrity outlet E! News quoted an unidentified source last week as saying Lopez was planning to move from Miami to Los Angeles to spend more time with Affleck, 48, and was looking for schools for her 13-year-old twins Max and Emme.
Max and Emme, along with the singer’s sister Lydia, were also photographed walking into the restaurant in Malibu on Sunday.
Lopez married Latin singer Marc Anthony, her third husband, just five months after her 2004 split with Affleck. Affleck went on to marry, and later was divorced from, actress Jennifer Garner.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
TikTok debuts new voice after Canadian actor sues
After noticing a new female voice narrating the videos on , users of TikTok were baffled as to why. It actually turns out that the Canadian actress behind the old voice filed a lawsuit against the platform for copyright violation as her voice was apparently being used without her permission.
Bev Standing, , is taking China-based ByteDance to court. TikTok’s parent company has since replaced her voice with a new one, with Standing reportedly finding out over email after a tip-off from a journalist. On the matter, Standing said: “They replaced me with another voice. I am so overwhelmed by this whole thing. I’m stumbling for words because I just don’t know what to say.”
TikTok is said to be considering a settlement for Standing outside of the courts, but nobody knows whether or not this is true. According to legal experts, the fact TikTok now has a new voice on the popular social media app suggests they acknowledge Standing’s case and potentially understand that she may have suffered as a result of the company’s actions.
Thanks to the emergence of the powerful smartphone devices of today, alongside taking high-quality images for Instagram, getting lost down YouTube wormholes, and , people are turning to relatively new platforms like TikTok. The service has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s iOS App Store. This latest news could harm the platforms future, although many of its younger users potentially aren’t aware that this type of scenario is unfolding.
For Bev Standing, the ordeal is a testing one. She wasn’t informed of the voice change, there is no mention of it in TikTok’s newsroom online, and the development is news to her lawyer also.
This all comes after her case was filed in a New York State court in early May after the voice actor noticed a computer-generated version of her voice had been seen and listened to around the world since 2020. Speculation is rife as to how TikTok managed to obtain the recordings but Standing believes the company acquired them from a project she took part in for the Chinese government in 2018.
The Institute of Acoustics in China reportedly promised her that all of the material she would be recording would be used solely for translation, but they eventually fell into the hands of TikTok and have since been altered and then exposed to a global audience.
According to Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and an expert in copyright law, the fact that the hugely popular social media platform has now changed Standing’s voice could result in a positive outcome for the distraught voice actor. She said: “It’s a positive step in the way that they are mitigating their damages. And when you’re mitigating, you’re acknowledging that we did something wrong, and you’re trying to make things better.”
When assessing social media etiquette and how both companies and users should act, this type of news can only do more harm than good. Not only does it make the company look bad, but it could have an effect on revenues and, ultimately, TikTok’s reputation.
With a clear desire to move on and put this whole process behind her, Bev Standing is eager for the case to be resolved and get back to the daily work she loves and has been doing for a large part of her life. TikTok has until July 7 to respond to her claim.
Nigeria orders broadcasters not to use Twitter to gather information
Nigerian television and radio stations should not use Twitter to gather information and have to de-activate their accounts, the broadcast authority said following the move to suspend the U.S. social media giant in Africa’s most populous country.
Nigeria’s government on Friday said it had suspended Twitter’s activities, two days after the platform removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish secessionists. Nigerian telecoms firms have since blocked access to Twitter.
International diplomats responded with a joint statement in support of “free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria”.
Buhari, who was Nigeria’s military ruler in the 1980s, has previously been accused of cracking down on freedom of expression, though his government has denied such accusations.
Twitter has called its suspension “deeply concerning” and said it would work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on the platform to communicate and connect with the world.
The National Broadcasting Commission, in a statement dated June 6, told broadcasters to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”.
“Broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering,” it said in the statement, adding that “strict compliance is enjoined”.
The statement comes two days after the attorney general ordered the prosecution of those who break the rules on the ban.
The foreign minister on Monday held a closed door meeting in the capital, Abuja, with diplomats from the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and Ireland to discuss the ban.
It followed the statement by their diplomatic missions on Saturday in which they criticised the move.
“These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue…. as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said in their statement.
Nigeria’s information minister on Friday said the ban would be “indefinite” but, in a statement late on Sunday, referred to it as a “temporary suspension”.
The minister did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages on Monday seeking comment on the altered language.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh and Abraham Achirga in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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